Most everyone I meet feels pulled in more directions than ever, expected to work longer hours, and asked to get more done, often with fewer resources. But in these same audiences, there are also, invariably, a handful of people who are getting things done, including the important stuff, and somehow still managing to have a life.
What have they figured out that the rest of their colleagues have not?
The answer, surprisingly, is not that they have more will or discipline than you do. The counterintuitive secret to getting things done is to make them more automatic, so they require less energy.
It turns out we each have one reservoir of will and discipline, and it gets progressively depleted by any act of conscious self-regulation. In other words, if you spend energy trying to resist a fragrant chocolate chip cookie, you’ll have less energy left over to solve a difficult problem. Will and discipline decline inexorably as the day wears on.
“Acts of choice,” the brilliant researcher Roy Baumeister and his colleagues have concluded, “draw on the same limited resource used for self-control.” That’s especially so in a world filled more than ever with potential temptations, distractions and sources of immediate gratification.
At the Energy Project, we help our clients develop something we call rituals — highly specific behaviors, done at precise times, so they eventually become automatic and no longer require conscious will or discipline.
The proper role for your pre-frontal cortex is to decide what behavior you want to change, design the ritual you’ll undertake, and then get out of the way. “It is a profoundly erroneous truism that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing,” the philosopher A.N. Whitehead explained back in 1911. “The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them.”
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